Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
In writer-director Michael Showalter’s adorable, witty and heartfelt comedy, HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS, America’s Sweetheart Sally Field plays the kooky titular figure who’s evolving at a late stage in life. After her elderly mother dies and she attends a self-help seminar, Doris feels inspired to romance her colleague, John Fremont (Max Greenfield). She shows up at his favorite restaurants, listens to the same music and wins over his hipster friends all in the name of love. However, as her schoolgirl crush deepens, latent emotions about previous paths not taken bubble to the surface.
Tackling such a complex character like Doris was unlike anything Field previously had on her resume – going as far as to say she’s just Showalter’s mouthpiece.
“There’s not a moment in this film that’s like anything I’ve ever done before – not a second, not a moment. This comes from Michael. It’s Michael’s voice – I’m just moving my mouth.”
Doris’ resonant emotional through line for Field was that she’s someone evolving and blossoming at a late stage in life.
“I think in some ways [Doris] isn’t coming back to life. I think this is her first foray really into being fully alive and present. You can tell she was still so stuck in some repressed place. We figured out it must be that her mother had a very dominating influence on her. All of her emotions were in her interior. She’s emotionally inarticulate. She doesn’t have a way to clearly express what’s going on inside of her. John is the lure, is the bait that’s calling her out to reach outside of where she’s comfortable. We’re always in stages. That’s what being alive is about. It’s always the different stage that you’re meeting in your life. It doesn’t end when you’re 16 or 17. It goes on and then there’s another stage after that and another stage after that. The challenge is always will you embrace that change? Will you move into it? Will you be new again? Will you be willing to be awkward and vulnerable and new again and not know where to put your feet, however old you are? It’s a coming of age story for someone of age.”
Field admits she’s the polar opposite of her pack-rat character.
“You try to get rid of the things that are weighing you down. I’ve done that recently and I regret a lot of how aggressive I was with myself.”
Field collaborated with costume designer Rebecca Gregg to create Doris’ distinct wardrobe.
“None of knew exactly what she looked like. Michael let us go and create her. What Rebecca did which was remarkable was she created a roomful, rack after rack after rack after rack of old clothes that she collected from the old clothing houses that almost don’t exist anymore – Western Costume and the old Universal wardrobe. She also went to all the thrift shops. Most of it was disgusting. I mean, really rank and horrible. Doris just sort of emerged out of all of those racks of clothes. It was literally like sculpting something. She started to emerge from the marble. By the end of the third day, we had almost all of them.”
However, there was one get-up of Doris’ Field and Showalter couldn’t quite see eye to eye on – the neon yellow jumpsuit.
“I just said, ‘What?’ He said he knew very clearly what it was and I went, ‘What? That’s… you can’t do that. You’re going for a joke. It will tear the fabric of her character.’ I was quoting Lee Strasberg, I was pulling out everything. And he said, ‘Trust me. I know comedy. This is it. I know it, I know it, I know it.’ And he was right. It was a leap of faith but every bit of all of this, for everyone was a leap of faith.”
As for Doris’ hair, Field knew exactly how she wanted it to be styled.
“I had it in my head what the hair was. It’s Brigitte Bardot’s hairdo in 1961 except hers is blonde and it’s Brigitte Bardot underneath the hair. She had big swooping bangs which I cut off to make it just not quite right. She wore that great big scarf around her hair so we sort of knew what the hair was.”
During one scene in particular, Field bops around her bedroom to an upbeat electro-pop tune which tested her physical endurance.
“You see a second of it. [Showalter] actually let it go on for a very, very long time. It was an aerobics class. I was drenched in sweat. I thought I was going to blow both my knees.”
Characters tend to stick with the affable actress even after filming has finished – and Doris will probably be no different.
“Maybe in retrospect, being here a number of years now, I think it takes a while to look back on what you do if you ever have the bravery to do that, and realize that there’s some part of that character that sticks with me, that you’ll look back on. You’ll be carrying on in your life and a memory will flash through your head and you’ll go, ‘Wait a minute, that didn’t happen to me. That happened to the character.’ It wasn’t really my experience and yet its somehow incorporated in my little medley of experiences as if it were mine. If you have the opportunity, your lucky enough to play characters that are three dimensional and very deeply rooted in both an emotional level, they stay with you. They live in you. They lived in you anyway but it takes a while to know how they’ve influenced you.”
HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS opens on March 11.